Socorro General Hospital to remain open

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Rumors of Socorro General Hospital’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase humorist Mark Twain.

Thanks to the last-minute passage of the Sole Community Provider Federal Compliance Bill (Senate Bill 268) setting a county and state funding formula to support rural hospitals, Socorro General Hospital will stay open without any reduction in service, according to Socorro General Hospital administrator Bo Beames and Socorro County Manager Delilah Walsh.

At least until this summer.

The original version of Senate Bill 238 called for New Mexico counties to contribute one eighth of one percent of their annual gross receipts tax to the state’s “Safety Net Care Pool Fund” to fund the gap between what Medicare pays for patient care and the hospitals’ actual costs. Federal and — starting this year — state funding would make up the gap, helping rural hospitals stay in business.

But a compromise reduced the percentage of gross receipts tax to be collected for the fund, creating a shortfall. According to Beames, 29 rural sole provider hospitals — including Socorro General — will now have to share $157 million instead of the full $193 million they had counted on, a reduction of about $36 million including lost federal matching funds.

Whether New Mexico rural hospitals will be able to continue providing the same services or even stay open depends on Governor Susanna Martinez — she could use her line-item veto power to eliminate the bill’s provision requiring New Mexico Health and Human Services Dept. to use general funds to make up the shortfall, according to a legislative librarian.

Socorro General Hospital is likely to weather even this worst-case scenario because it is funded differently than some rural hospitals.

“We’re not anticipating the (Socorro) hospital would close,” Beames said. “We’ll be assessing the impact of the reductions, whether we can continue providing services at the same level as in the past. The good news is that we have strong support through mill levy and that puts us in a better position than some rural hospitals in the state.”

The county uses a dedicated health care property tax charge to fund its hospital and indigent care services, Walsh said. The hospital mill levy brings in about $900,000 per year. When the new Sole Community Provider bill is signed into law, the county will have to contribute the equivalent of one-twelfth of one percent of its gross receipts tax to the state’s safety net pool, about $193,000. The remainder of the mill levy money will go directly to Socorro General Hospital for its funding needs, including Medicaid gap and indigent care costs. The county does not presently use gross receipts taxes to fund health care costs.

Because the Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid coverage, no one knows for sure how much more money will be needed to cover the expenses of new enrollees, Walsh said. People have until the end of March to sign up for Centennial Care, New Mexico’s version of Medicaid.

Beames also said the picture should become clearer by this summer.

“We’ll know more closer to July,” Beames said. “We really don’t know right now. The Hospital Association is going to model the numbers. We’re still hopeful the state will come up with the $9 million to fully fund the program, and for that reason, we won’t know for a period of time what the impact will be for our local hospital.”

 

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